Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s acting head of state, has announced that Chavez’s body will be preserved and permanently displayed inside a glass tomb at a military museum not far from the presidential palace.
“We have decided to prepare the body of our ‘Comandante President,’ to embalm it so that it remains open for all time for the people. Just like Ho Chi Minh. Just like Lenin. Just like Mao Zedong [Tse-tung],” Maduro said.
He said the body would be held in a “crystal urn” at the Museum of the Revolution, a stone’s throw away from Miraflores presidential palace from which the late president had ruled for the past 14 years.
Maduro’s announcement came amidst an outpouring of grief and national mourning during which Chavez’s supporters compared him to Jesus Christ, and accused his national and international critics of subversion.
The move will put the late Venezuelan president on the controversial list of some of the world’s most ruthless dictators and ideological leaders who have had their doctored remains installed in glass coffins for unlimited public viewing.
Included in the creepy collection are Vladimir Lenin, Mao Tse-tung, Kim Jong Il, Ho Chi Minh, Klement Gottwald, Joseph Stalin, Ferdinand Marcos and Eva Peron.
Keeping those thus “honoured” free from the natural and inevitable process of decay is no easy task, however, and involves intense, expensive and ongoing procedures.
According to Dr John Troyer, deputy director at the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath in England, “The body will always slowly decay, no matter how carefully preserved, over many decades on display. It happened, for example, with the body of Lenin, his ear fell off and had to be glued back on”.
Dr Troyer told The Huffington Post UK that methods of embalming have stayed quite consistent since the mid 19th century.
“It’s usually formaldehyde injected into the body, nowadays via an electrical pump. Sometimes a red dye is used to give the body a more natural skin tone,” he explained.
At this stage, it may be a good idea to put down your roti, doubles, or cutter; or maybe stop reading altogether.
The mortician who embalmed Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos has already offered his services to Caracas, according to an AFP report. Frank Malabed told the news agency that he was “always expecting a call. I will process anyone, anywhere.”
Malabed described his technique: “You need to inject fluid into the arteries after draining blood from the veins. You use a hypodermic needle for that. Then you replenish it regularly. It has to be checked regularly to arrest any sign of decomposition.
“In the case of President Marcos, it was difficult work. He was a vegetable. The body was full of oedema [fluid],” he disclosed.
The Russians are said to be the world’s most expert embalmers. Ilya Zbarsky, a member of Lenin’s embalming maintenance team, told the BBC in a 1999 interview: “Twice a week, we would soak the face and the hands with a special solution. We could also improve some minor defects. Once a year the mausoleum was closed and the body was immersed in a bath with this solution.”
The body of late Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh was periodically flown to Moscow to benefit from Russian expertise for its ongoing maintenance.
Formidable Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung was reportedly preserved contrary to his wishes for cremation.
In the book, “The Private Life of Chairman Mao”, the embalmers charged with the task revealed that they had “no idea” how they would preserve the body for so long.
China’s former strongman was injected with formaldehyde, but the initial results were reportedly something of a dead loss.
As Zhisui Li outlined: “The results were shocking. Mao’s face was bloated, as round as a ball, and his neck was now the width of his head. His skin was shiny and the formaldehyde oozed from his pores like perspiration. His ears were swollen, too, sticking out at right angles. The corpse was grotesque. The guards and attendants were aghast.”
The attendants resorted to massaging the corpse to eliminate the swelling, and bits of Chairman Mao’s cheek and ears reportedly dropped off, necessitating cosmetic restoration.
Few preservation procedures have nevertheless gone as gravely wrong as that of Klement Gottwald, the former communist president of Czechoslovakia.
Gottwald was embalmed in 1953, but soon decomposed so badly that his legs had to be replaced altogether. By 1962, his abdomen, torso and arms had decayed beyond repair and he was mercifully cremated.
Reprinted from Caribbean360